Tech startup CloudStratex helps clients speed up the adoption of new technology and better use their IT. It is also in the vanguard of finding and developing the next generation of talent through its talent academy and recent partnership with youth homelessness charity Centrepoint.
CEO Adrian Overall explains why it’s crucial to provide the opportunity for young people to thrive in the world of work.
Adrian, why did you set up the Talent Academy, and what does it hope to achieve?
Like many of my peers, I have in the past had someone act as a mentor in my career. Everyone needs a little help at times, and it’s not always easy to find your way as a young person. CloudStratex’s ambition was to create an environment whereby young people could benefit from our experience and build a legacy.
You get to a point in life where you realise that a lot of what you should or could be doing should be focused on developing the next generation to enable them to create startups and be the COO and CEOs of the future.
How was the CloudStratex Talent Academy set up?
We interviewed many young graduates and found quite a few willing to take a slightly different career path to the traditional corporate approach. Being a growth company ourselves, I think we appeal to individuals who would like to do something slightly different. We are not just focused on the qualifications; it’s about ambition, aspiration and whether you’re willing to work hard to get the rewards.
What are you looking for and what do they learn on the programme?
There’s a rigorous recruitment process designed to try and capture candidates’ imagination and enable them to showcase their talent. Once in the business, they have access to a robust pastoral care environment, where all the senior leadership team operate as mentors; everyone here has a mentor.
Then we try to provide the right balance between allowing them to train and learn new skills whilst also being client-facing to experience what it means to interact with customers and perform on their behalf. We try to encourage a mindset fueled by accountability and responsibility but in a safe environment, with support and help from us, always on hand.
After some time, they have the option to either stay with us and join one of our tech, organisational or people-focused practices for further training or choose to continue their development externally.
Given there’s a talent shortage, why do young people need help?
I have seen many businesses underserve young people. The young are seen as a cheap resource which can have a detrimental impact on their confidence.
I felt CloudStratex could create a much more enriched experience for younger people knowing that we wouldn’t have got to where we are as professionals had someone not gone out of their way to help us.
The point is that young people need help to develop the necessary soft and technical skills to thrive in the workplace. Most young people we meet are good people, and so we look for attitude, those who want to get on and succeed.
I say to the guys all the time that attitude beats acumen. What I mean is, if you wake up in the morning thinking, ‘How can I be creative?’ ‘How can I be productive?’ By bringing that attitude to the working environment, you can go a hell of a long way. It then becomes more than the number of A-levels you have.
Does that mean that companies are recruiting in the wrong way?
It’s difficult because of the influx of automaton behaviour in the world of work. There is an algorithm for almost everything in the recruitment process, and some of these larger companies probably have hundreds of thousands of applications to manage. Having a finite number of roles means they have to rely heavily on tech to weed through candidates.
Companies need to avoid targets, avoid setting strict criteria, challenge the language used and widen the recruitment pool to attract more young people, diversity, including diversity of thought and skill set.
What does supporting young people more look like in practice?
I think our education system leaves you high and dry when it comes to what it’s like to go to work. You’re trained essentially to pass exams, and there’s very little vocational support. Then you’re thrust into a world where you meet all manner of different types of people with who you have to interact.
We’re trying to develop softer skills that enable young people to work harmoniously with co-workers and communicate better. For example, teach them how to write-up meeting notes or take minutes and be a conscientious contributor. People may have ambitions to do further education, and we are keen to support them in those aspirations.
Young people seem to be in your DNA. Is this why you partner with Centrepoint?
Centrepoint was chosen as a charity partner by members of the Talent Academy, a decision I fully support. Acknowledging how fortunate they were, the Academy wanted to help people of a similar age and background who hadn’t had the same opportunities.
We support Centrepoint through charitable acts and by encouraging some of its young people to become part of the Talent Academy.
Is Centrepoint the only organisation that you’re working with that way?
Yes, I want to build a long-term relationship with a charity that is core to our business. And demonstrate how we’re making a real difference versus the relationship being somewhat superficial. We have limited resources, and we’re still relatively small, but it is a worthy charity close to our heart, so a win-win.
Will you be able to maintain this sense of purpose as the business grows?
Yes, I don’t want this dilutive effect, which you get as you scale a business. I’m trying to solve that by recruiting people who believe in our values to ensure we don’t lose sight of them as we grow. We don’t want a sustainable business that has lost its way. We want to be known for the company that is the vanguard of driving next-generation talent through the Talent Academy and Centrepoint relationship.
Is it important to allow people to make mistakes?
Definitely, mistakes happen. But the point is, you make a mistake because you’re pushing the boundaries. And I’d much rather that than people sitting in the corner frightened to do stuff. We want to create an empowered, proactive environment, which you can’t do unless people feel safe and able to make mistakes or fail.
Has your career experience influenced this approach?
Yes, I got into technology by working on a company’s support desk for 12-hours-a-day. It was the hardest job I’ve ever done. I was left to my own devices, got my head around it and just kept on walking through the door. And that’s one of the things I took away from that job, that the minute you stop walking through the door is the minute you put up the white flag of surrender.
We’re trying to put the Talent Academy graduates into customer-facing roles from day one and say, ‘this is about your personality and how you interact with people, less about what you know, and how you apply it’.
Finally, do have any last piece of advice for young people?
If you work hard, you can get a long way. There are many things thrown at you in life that knock you off base, but you keep getting up in the morning and get out through the door. When you get into that relentless pursuit of goodness, you can take on the world.